Peak performance for racing relies on a strong foundation of physical preparation but you also need to work on your mental and emotional preparation too, especially if you’re attempting a long race. If you get your head right, then you can go that extra mile or have that added rush of energy when you need it most during a long day.
If you encounter the right type of ‘stress’ during a race and perform the right mental response, you'll often call it a challenge, embrace it and enjoy it. If you get the wrong type of stress during a race or 'bad stress', then take the wrong mental decisions to deal with it, it’s affect can be soul destroying.
Left unanswered, bad stress can creep up on you. Building to the point where it smacks you in the face. A harsh sudden dose of reality can suddenly risk tearing your dreams into pieces.
If you haven’t done the right mental preparation to help you plan how you’ll react to bad stress, months of training, sacrifice, discomfort, time, expense and expectation can be laid to ruin.
Spending some time beforehand setting mental goals, building up self-belief and thinking about how you’ll react when stress knocks at your door will make your race experience far more productive and enjoyable.
Set yourself A, B and C targets before your race with C always being just to finish in whatever time you can. Think about the C goal beforehand and accept that some days it just might not happen. They’ll always be another race to get that elusive PB. If you can accept the C goal before the start at whatever speed, in whatever fashion then you’ll often relax and perform far better than you expect.
Write down your rationale for racing or finishing too. Examples could be 'To know the feeling of joy when I cross the finish line', 'to inspire other people to do what I do too', 'to prove to myself that I am mentally strong'.
Stay positive at all times. Look back at all the training you’ve done. Smile (a lot). All the preparation. All the hours. How far you’ve come.
Avoid negative statements and thoughts. Avoid negative people and situations. Don’t knock yourself down before you start or during your race. Don't judge yourself against others.
Stress and negative emotions are huge energy drainers and interfere with your focus, concentration, ability to perform and your general health. The principle source of stress is the system’s ‘central voice,’ your mind.
Some negative thoughts put into words that we often hear from runners;
‘Some of the runners on the start line are way faster or fitter than me and are real athletes. I don’t deserve to line up with them as they’ll finish well in front of me.'
‘He or she’s faster than me. I don’t think I can run as fast as them.’
‘I am slow, it feels pointless, I am hopeless, I can’t do it’.
Better words as alternatives to these statements that could be used to form a positive mindset;
‘So I’m a slower runner. Who cares? If I take it slow, I’ll get around and still enjoy it’.
‘I’m in the best possible shape I can be. I’ll race my own race to the best of my ability and if I’m close to them in the later stages, I’ll have a go at pushing past them.’
‘I am slow but I’m not a quitter. It may not be pretty but I’ll finish’.
Preparing for when things go wrong
During the final weeks before your race, prepare for the race negatives and stress scenarios before they happen. List down everything that could go wrong and then write down next to them how you’ll react. Giving each one some careful consideration. Stress examples could be;
What do I do if I throw up and can’t stop feeling sick?
What do I do if I have a blister?
What do I do if I get lost?
What do I do if my feet get wet?
What do I do if I run out of fluid?
What do I do if I can't finish?
Using the first stress scenario, a possible pre-prepared response could be;
If I throw up I will;
· Not panic, stay calm, accept the situation and deal with it
· Sit down for 5 mins and breathe slowly
· Try to drink some water
· Walk to the next aid station or checkpoint
· Lie down for 15 – 20 mins and let the medical team assess my situation
· Listen to their advice whether to carry on or stop.
· Accept it! My health is far more important than finishing today.
The first line of the response ‘not panic, stay calm, accept the situation and deal with it’ should always be your first reaction to a negative stress scenario. If you can’t do this, then all the steps you come up with after won’t be actioned to solve or reduce the stress.
By following these tips to develop your mental preparation skills before your race or challenge, you’ll greatly enhance your race experience. They can then possibly be taken into your life to give you more enjoyment and fulfilment with less worry, frustration, stress and negative emotion. They can help make you more patient, optimistic and motivated. They can also allow help you to clear out mental / emotional clutter too.